There Must Be Boulevards | Exploration by Design

There Must Be Boulevards | Exploration by Design

Welcome to the third installation of Exploration by Design! Each week we’re bringing you a curated invitation to safely explore and uncover our region’s hidden gems. These missions will challenge you to explore digital guideposts on a journey to discovering the physical elements that make the Greater Omaha Metro such a remarkable place.

Exploration by Design offers an outlet to continue learning about our region’s public spaces, art, architecture, and development – all while practicing safe social distancing. You can easily follow along from the comfort of your home. Or, you can choose to safely venture out, incorporating these challenges as a part of your mental and physical health breaks. Either way, we strongly urge you to adhere to the rules and recommendations set forth by local officials and public health agencies.

Even though we’ll be exploring separately, let’s learn together! We encourage you to share your discoveries on social media with the hashtag #ExplorationByDesign.

Riverview Park, circa 1912 | Postcard Quest

Last week, you journeyed with us on a quest for public art across the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro. In this week’s Exploration by Design challenge, we look to an early visionary who laid plans for this dusty frontier town to become – in his words – “a work of art.”

Horace William Shaler Cleveland – better known as H.W.S. Cleveland – is remembered as one of America’s greatest landscape architects, considered second only to Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park. East Coast born and educated, Cleveland’s long and illustrious career took him on a steady path westward, leaving a legacy of park design that embodied his respect for the natural environment and indispensable belief that open parkland should be preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of all.

Armour Packing House, 29th & Q | South Omaha Museum

Enter Omaha.

At the turn of the twentieth century, a booming industrial city built on the convergence of the river and railroads, stockyards and meatpacking, smelting and wholesaling. The city was quickly growing, but civic leaders and citizen advocates saw the need to transform this economic success into something more lasting.

Led by physician and journalist George L. Miller (future namesake of Miller Park), they successfully advocated for legislation that would give Omaha the authority to establish a publicly-funded Parks Commission. And with that, newly-minted Parks Commission President Miller wasted no time in hiring the renowned H.W.S. Cleveland to develop “a system of parks, parkways and boulevards” which would surely affirm Omaha’s place as one of the Midwest’s most progressive cities.

“Public Parks are not merely a convenience or luxury, they are an absolute necessity to every great city. With a system of parks there must be boulevards, forming as it were a chain or belt of pleasure resorts.”

Art Work of Omaha, W.H. Parish Publishing Co., 1896

Commissioned just one year before his death in 1900, Cleveland would not live to see the completion of the Omaha Park and Boulevard System. However, his great vision carries on today, in the city’s signature parks linked by meandering, tree-lined boulevards.

1923 Parks & Boulevards Map | City of Omaha Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission

Join us as we retrace Omaha’s pioneering system of boulevards.

We’ll uncover not only the great parks which provide so much recreation and enjoyment, but also the hidden vistas and forgotten stories which line our path.

Totaling about 26 miles in length, we’ve broken our tour into two segments. This week we present

There Must Be Boulevards: Route 1

beginning at Fontenelle Park and winding southeast to the former Riverview Park (now Henry Doorly Zoo).

Expand the map above for driving directions. Route 1 is also quite bikeable, although we recommend consulting the Bike Omaha Network beforehand and modifying to your comfort level.

Don’t forget to share what you find along the way, tagging #ExplorationByDesign.

And join us again next week as we follow

There Must Be Boulevards: Route 2

from Omaha’s “Prettiest Mile” to its “Great Central Park.”

Florence Boulevard | North Omaha History by Adam Fletcher Sasse

Special thanks to the City of Omaha Department of Parks, Recreation & Public Property, and to the following sources for their immense contributions to the historic record: City of Omaha Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission | North Omaha History by Adam Fletcher Sasse | The Durham Museum